Taking its cue from the likes of Lance Armstrong, dozens of Atlanta Public School teachers and Bernie Madoff, the Republican Party is embracing a bold new solution to its political problems:
If you can’t compete, cheat.
And cheat big.
In Virginia, for example, Barack Obama has carried the state and its 13 electoral votes in the last two elections, becoming the first Democrat to carry the state back-to-back since Franklin Roosevelt. But rather than work harder to win back the state, or adopt policies more relevant to the needs of its voters, Republicans are advancing another solution.
Under a bill passed out of a state Senate subcommittee this week, Virginia would no longer award its electoral votes to the candidate who won the most votes. Instead, the state’s electoral votes would be allocated by congressional district, which are heavily gerrymandered to favor the GOP.*
Had the bill been law in November, Barack Obama would have been awarded just four of the state’s 13 electoral votes, even though he carried the state.
Mitt Romney, who lost the state, would have won nine electoral votes, more than twice as many as the winner. As one observer put it, Virginia is in the process of moving from a winner-takes-all system to a loser-takes-most system.
The bill now moves to a Senate committee, where Republicans hold a 10-5 advantage. It would then be voted on by the entire Senate, which is split 20-20 between the parties. A tie would be broken by the lieutenant governor, a Republican. Republicans control the Virginia House and governor’s office.
But as one GOP senator assured the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “There’s no partisan ax to grind here.”
Presumably, there is also no partisan ax-grinding underway in five other large states won by Obama, where Republicans are pushing similar legislation.
The scheme is so blatant in its election-stealing intent that it has pushed Larry Sabato, the well-known and nonpartisan elections expert at the University of Virginia, to condemn it in unusually harsh terms. The plan is “a corrupt and cynical maneuver to frustrate popular will and put a heavy thumb — the whole hand, in fact — on the scale for future Republican candidates.”
(BTW, the sheer gall of this effort adds credence to Democratic claims that the GOP has been trying to game the system in other ways, such as restricting access to the ballot box.)
The Republican Party faces a choice, Sabato writes. It can choose the Reaganesque, optimistic approach, “convinced that it can win the future by embracing it.” Or it can turn to a Nixonian attitude in which “it sees enemies everywhere, feels overwhelmed by electoral trends, and thinks it can win only by cheating, by subverting the system and stacking the deck in its favor.”
Sabato also cites the work of a colleague and fellow political scientist, Alan Abramovitz of Emory University, who has studied the potential impact of the GOP scheme. As Abramovitz notes, Obama won the popular vote, and thus the electoral votes, in Virginia, Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida and Wisconsin. In all six states, Republicans are eying passage of some version of the Virginia plan.
Had it been in place in 2012, Abramovitz concludes, the Virginia plan would have given Obama just 45 electoral votes in those states, while Romney would have reaped 61. And again, Obama carried all six states.
“Under current circumstances, the congressional district system could well result in a Republican victory even if the Democratic candidate were to win the popular vote by a substantial margin. Such a situation would undoubtedly lead to widespread questioning of the legitimacy of the election and, potentially, a public backlash against the victorious Republican candidate and the GOP itself. Before engaging in a cynical attempt to rig the electoral system, Republican leaders and strategists should consider the potential harm that their actions could do to our democratic form of government and to their own party.”
Once upon a time, such a scheme would have been unthinkable. Once upon a time, no major political party would have dared to be associated with it, because the bald-faced thievery is too obvious. Even Nixon would be appalled at the shamelessness of it all.
But in these times, Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus has publicly endorsed the election-stealing plan. “I think it’s something that a lot of states that have been consistently blue that are fully controlled red ought to be looking at,” he said this month.
Such is the desperation and moral bankruptcy of the party that he leads.
*On Monday, Senate Republicans in Virginia took advantage of the fact that a Democratic colleague — a well-respected veteran of the civil rights movement — had traveled to Washington to attend the inauguration and for MLK Day observances. In his absence, they rushed through a surprise bill redrawing the state’s districts once again, to squeeze still further advantage from the system.
– Jay Bookman